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Dela Cruz vs. Andres Case Digest


Petition for relief from judgment can only be filed in the MTC or RTC. Neither the Rules of Court nor the Revised Internal Rules of the Court of Appeals allows the remedy of petition for relief in the Court of Appeals.

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Facts: 

Sps. Dela Cruz filed a complaint for annulment of title and/or reconveyance with damages against Sps. Andres. Sps. Dela Cruz won in the MTC but lost in the RTC.

Sps. Dela Cruz filed a petition for review with the CA. The appellate court, however, dismissed the petition since the Certification of Non-Forum Shopping was signed not signed by them but by their counsel, Atty. Villarosa, in violation of Section 5, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. Petitioners moved for reconsideration but it was denied.

The petitioners then filed with the CA a petition for relief from judgment praying that the dismissal of their petition for review be set aside since the gross negligence of their previous counsel did not bind them. The appellate court, however, denied their petition. It ruled that petitioners were bound by the action of their counsel as well as by his mistake or negligence.


Issue:

Can petitioners avail of a petition for relief under Rule 38 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure from a judgment of the CA due to their counsel’s negligence when he signed the Certification of Non-Forum Shopping?


Held:

No. A petition for relief from judgment under Rule 38 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure is an equitable remedy that is allowed only in exceptional cases when there is no other available or adequate remedy. It may be availed of only after a judgment, final order or other proceeding was taken against the petitioner in any court through fraud, accident, mistake, or excusable negligence.

While the law uses the phrase any court, it refers only to Municipal/Metropolitan and Regional Trial Courts. The procedure in the Court of Appeals and this Court are governed by separate provisions of the Rules of Court and may, from time to time, be supplemented by additional rules promulgated by this Court through resolutions or circulars. As it stands, neither the Rules of Court nor the Revised Internal Rules of the Court of Appeals allows the remedy of petition for relief in the Court of Appeals.

Moreover, under Section 1(b), Rule 41 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, the denial of a petition for relief from judgment is subject only to a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65. In seeking to reverse the appellate courts decision denying their petition for relief from judgment by a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45, petitioners have availed of the wrong remedy twice.

Nevertheless, even if this Court were to delve into the merits of this petition, the same must still be denied. What petitioners counsel did in this case was to attach an improper Certification of Non-Forum Shopping to their petition for review with the appellate court. While this omission can plausibly qualify as simple negligence, it does not amount to gross negligence to justify the annulment of the proceedings below.

For a claim of counsels gross negligence to prosper, nothing short of clear abandonment of the clients cause must be shown. The negligence of counsel must be so gross that the client is deprived of his day in court, the result of which is that he is deprived of his property without due process of law. Thus, where a party was given the opportunity to defend his interests in due course, he cannot be said to have been denied due process of law, for this opportunity to be heard is the very essence of due process. Here, the case underwent a full-blown trial. Both parties were adequately heard, and all issues were ventilated before the decision was promulgated.

It should be pointed out that in petitions for relief from judgment, meritorious defenses must be accompanied by the ground relied upon, whether it is fraud, accident, mistake, excusable negligence, extrinsic fraud or lack of jurisdiction. In the instant case, there being neither excusable nor gross negligence amounting to a denial of due process, meritorious defenses cannot alone be considered.

While it is true that rules of procedure are not cast in stone, it is equally true that strict compliance with the Rules is indispensable for the prevention of needless delays and for the orderly and expeditious dispatch of judicial business. Utter disregard of the rules cannot justly be rationalized by harking on the policy of liberal construction. (Dela Cruz vs. Andres, G.R. No. 161864, April 27, 2007)

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